Tuesday, March 5, 2013

City approves development agreement, tax abatement for $25M Rock Chalk Park recreation center

The proposed site plan for the Rock Chalk Park Sports Complex in northwest Lawrence.

The proposed site plan for the Rock Chalk Park Sports Complex in northwest Lawrence.


Lawrence city commissioners gave final approval Tuesday night to a development agreement that allows the $25 million Rock Chalk recreation center project to move forward.

They also approved an ordinance that will give the larger Rock Chalk Park project, which includes privately owned athletic facilities to be used by Kansas University, a 100 percent property tax abatement for the next 10 years.

The approval came on a pair of 4-1 votes, with only city commissioner Mike Amyx dissenting.

The commission gave approval to the property tax abatement even though its key advisory board on economic development incentives failed to provide a positive recommendation for the requested abatement at an earlier meeting Tuesday.

The commissioners said they approved the project — which would include track and field, soccer and softball stadiums for Kansas University — because they felt it was important to the overall health of the community.

“I think there is a potential for the university, our largest employer, to be damaged by not moving forward with this project,” Commissioner Mike Dever said.

Tuesday’s vote puts the recreation center project — a 181,000-square-foot building with eight gyms and other amenities — on track to be put out for construction bids in late March and to have bids accepted in mid-April, although it will be up to the next City Commission to approve those bids after the April 2 election.

Tuesday night's vote also is one of the last needed for Kansas University and its private partner — Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports — to begin construction on the stadium portion of the project. Both the Rock Chalk Park project and the recreation center are planned for property just north and east of the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange.

The stadium projects will receive a 100 percent, 10-year tax abatement that is expected to waive about $17 million worth of property taxes over the time period.

But the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee on Tuesday afternoon could not reach an agreement on whether to recommend approval of the tax abatements. The committee deadlocked 3-3 on whether to recommend the tax abatement.

Rob Chestnut, who is a member of the Public Incentives Review Committee and a current candidate for the City Commission, raised several concerns about whether the city’s financial analysis of the project was accurate.

City commissioners, however, said it was difficult to create a traditional financial analysis for the project because it is not driven by the number of jobs it will directly create but rather by the number of visitors it may bring to the community and other indirect benefits.

Mayor Bob Schumm and Dever — who have served as the lead negotiators for the city — also both expressed concern that if the city didn’t support the Rock Chalk Park project, KU may consider building the proposed sports facilities outside of Lawrence.

“They easily could leave the community,” Schumm said. “There are other people who would love to have this, and one of them is just down the road in Wyandotte County.”

Amyx, who is up for reelection April 2 and received the highest number of votes in last week's primary, was the lone commissioner to vote against both the incentives request and the development agreement between the city and RCP LLC — an entity of KU Endowment Association — and Fritzel’s Bliss Sports.

Amyx said he believed the Rock Chalk Park project deserved more scrutiny based on the the strong private element to the development through Bliss Sports' ownership of the facilities. Bliss will lease the facilities to KU.

KU and Bliss officials have said they hope to begin construction on the Rock Chalk Park portion of the project soon. Plans call for the 2014 Kansas Relays to be held at the new track and field stadium.


Phil Leister 5 years, 2 months ago

OK, so in a little over 1 year from right now, the Rock Chalk park should be completed and host the Relays. Now let's talk about what everyone on these boards actually cares about: the track. I expect nothing less than immediate construction on Memorial at the conclusion of the 2013 football season. Right?

2013 has to be the last season with the track.

Kevin Long 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree! That track is an absolute joke! It makes us look bad. A lot of high schools don't even have the track around the field anymore.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

Mizzou removed their track, but from what I understand they could not lower the field (at least not much) due to the water table.

It seems like KU is in the same situation with the water table on the north side of campus. Even removing the track might not allow for more seating if the field can not be dropped without becoming a swimming pool.

Of course, if the field is dropped too much, water table notwithstanding, we could have some site line problems as the pitch of the stands levels out a bit towards the field. Seats too far forward will block the view.

Personally, I would like to see the Kansas Relays remain in Memorial Stadium. Moving them elsewhere would feel like moving all KU BB games to the Sprint Center.

Just playing a little Devil's Advocate here...

John Beck 5 years, 2 months ago

Phog - The water table issue under Memorial is not an issue. The Anderson Family football complex construction, the amount of that building that is underground and dry, plus the drainage from the hill currently being properly diverted, allows for the Memorial field to be lowered and the stands/seating moved closer to the field. Not an issue. $ is the issue.

texashawk10 5 years, 2 months ago

There's no legitimate reason to keep the Relays at Memorial Stadium anymore. The track itself is very out of date and hasn't met current standards in a long time and a big reason why the Relays has lost its luster over the years. It's the reason why KU has never hosted the Big 12 outdoor T&F championships despite the history of the program. A new state of the art track like this can help restore some of the glory and prestige to the Relays. The positives of this far outweigh the negatives in regards for KU's T&F program and the Kansas Relays.

Ron Prichard 5 years, 2 months ago

Phog, as texashawk states, the biggest reason the track has to be moved is that it is not regulation size anymore. We can't host anything other than the KU Relays, which is great, but it would definitely be nice to be included in hosting conference, regional, and national meets. According to prior articles, this new track will be one of the top three or four in the country and could attract some significant meets--in addition to the KU Relays--to Lawrence.

Benjamin Piehler 5 years, 2 months ago

My bad. Read the "181,000-square-foot building with eight gyms and other amenities" part and assumed it was one ginormous building.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

I like having the oldest college football stadium west of the Mississippi.

hailtoku 5 years, 2 months ago

No. That only carrys weight when there is tradition and history attached to the oldest stadium. Memorial is simply old. It's a dump.

actorman 5 years, 2 months ago

It might be old, but it's not a dump. With the upgrades they've done recently and the location, it's a beautiful stadium. I'll grant you the lack of tradition and history, though.

hailtoku 5 years, 2 months ago

75,000 seater? You realize we can't fill our 50,000 seat stadium now right? We need to do exactly what the University of Minnesota did.

A really nice, modern stadium with a capacity of 50,000 with room for expansion.

Kyle Sybesma 5 years, 2 months ago

That's a great looking stadium and the perfect size for KU. See also Colorado State's proposed new stadium and Baylors new stadium. UNLV is building one with a 100 yard video board. That's cool!!

741hawk 5 years, 2 months ago

Removing the track and lowering the field ads 7 rows and approx 5,000 seats. The perfect "next expansion". (Note: I saw the three page summary of the engineering study. Trust me!)

Waylon Cook 5 years, 2 months ago

CONGRATS ON GETTING THIS DONE!!!!!!!!!! Hopefully Lawrence will be able to host state tourneys and bring in money for the community as well!


kuilander 5 years, 2 months ago

good now approve plans for memorial and release them.

clevelandjayhawker 5 years, 2 months ago

I would like to see improvements to the baseball field also, just seemed so dull the times I have been there. Nothing huge, but some sort of upgrade.

hailtoku 5 years, 2 months ago

I think the baseball field is very nice. It may not be on the level of the Texas and SEC schools but it's nice than most.

texashawk10 5 years, 2 months ago

No it's not. The video board is nice, but that's it as the rest of Hoglund makes it a below average stadium based on other stadiums I've seen. The outfield fence needs to change for being wood because it just looks dated and cheap. Other than the video board, it's not much nicer than decent HS stadiums down in Texas. Making the walls out of brick and putting padding on the outfield walls is a fairly cheap way to significantly improve the look of Hoglund and maybe then KU would actually have a nationally broadcast game from their homefield instead of only having national TV games when they're on the road.

Alex Laughlin 5 years, 2 months ago

There is padding on the outfield walls now.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 2 months ago

As a design professional trust me on is way too late to start regrading and modifying the field now in time for the start of 2013 football season.

There are certainly surface things that can be done [actually remove the track itself, submit drawings for review and permitting for the regraded field, obtain approvals and start fabrication of the new seating, etc.]. Also you can issue for bids, pick your contractor and have him mobilize, etc.

However, the real work must start the day after the last home game of the 2013 season[Sunday, Dec.1, 2013] and go gang busters, maybe 24/7, till the opening of football, fall of 2014. And of course, you need a contingency plan in case problems arise and you get behind schedule.[ Haskell??..Arrowhead??...Free State??..switch to the opponents field??]

As Laugh-in's Arte Johnson used to say, "Dis is going to be VVVEERRRRYY interesting!!"

Phil Leister 5 years, 2 months ago

Has anyone mentioned that they want this done before the 2013 season? I think everyone has accepted that the changes won't happen until after this upcoming season.

Tom Gillaspie 5 years, 2 months ago

Bob Schumm, Mike Amyx? Isn't it time they moved on and let some new blood take up the reigns?

Boouk 5 years, 2 months ago

What just happened to that "purple pride" KSU troll?

Ron Prichard 5 years, 2 months ago

I think when some of these posts get removed they actually remove everything and there isn't even a "removed for violation of the usage agreement" statement, so it looks like the comment goes to the post above the one that was just removed.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

What does KSU and Marijuana have in common? They both get smoked in bowls.

What do K-177 and C-470 have in common? They have both been disappeardedededed and have miraculously reapeardedededed.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

WOW! That latest reincarnation of Highway Man lasted less than 15 minutes! Way to go site staff!

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

See Sky Blue and Gold below...Highway Man popped up like a Prairie Dog again.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes. Very similar to the Colorado helmet below - just a different University.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

Is the Marijuana haze getting a little thick in Bowl-der?

Ron Prichard 5 years, 2 months ago

...and you are relevant why? Go troll the PAC schools. We've been done with you for a long time now.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

He got his 15 minutes of fame again...

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

While we are on the subject of football stadiums (and TCU, which I am sure Highway Man will bring up when he pops up like a Prairie Dog again)...

How about playing TCU in the Cotton Bowl Stadium and in Arrowhead? Think about it.

Positives: Lots of KU and TCU Alumni in Dallas. The Cotton Bowl is not too far from TCU (30-40 miles I believe). One game every other year in a famous and historic stadium. One game every other year in an NFL stadium. No track to look at at either stadium (this hurts some peoples eyes apparently). A newly rebuilt Big Tex can watch the action.

Negatives: I hate having college football games off campus. We give revenue to that other state that we went to war with 150 years ago.

Note: This comment was in no way intended to insult the intelligence of Prairie Dogs by comparing them with Highway Man. Prairie Dogs are highly intelligent social mammals. They are a keystone species on the High Plains.

Ron Prichard 5 years, 2 months ago

Back to the article at hand, would the new facility get more use if there were multiple softball fields in addition to the primary "game" field? It could be used for practices and multiple tournaments during the summer and generate revenue for Lawrence and KU, depending on how they worked it out. The same could go for soccer fields. I know the soccer complex in Overland Park makes a ton of money and is almost constantly filled. KU events would always take priority, including practice, but extra fields would allow for additional revenue. Just a thought.

jgkojak 5 years, 2 months ago

Why are we giving a private developer tax breaks? Isn't the construction and lease he will have for KU enough of a profit? I'm with Amyx on this.

jgkojak 5 years, 2 months ago

also, its not like this is in an economically depressed area of town or will benefit kids in poverty-- you'll need a car to get to this. why not build this in east lawrence? (also closer to KU)

April13 5 years, 2 months ago

Don't expect miracles even if the track is removed. I've looked at a lot of pics of football stadiums and I don't think we are actually going to gain that much. 1/2 or more of the track is actually used during the games.

You are constrained by how close you can get on the sidelines and that's all you'll get. I'm guessing approx. 4 rows of seating - which is nice - but unless you reconfigure the North Bowl, the stadium is still going to have a lot of "air" in it.

Don't get me wrong, I love the setting and love the stadium, but many posters seem to think the change is going to be more significant than it really can be.

Cody Riedy 5 years, 2 months ago

I apologize that I may be obtuse or just behind information that has already been provided, but could someone clarify for me how this project will work. So the city is paying $25 million to who? Is that the amount they've set aside that they are willing to pay for the construction and now someone will bid on it? Or is this the amount they will contribute to the private entities listed above who will then be in charge of the construction? How much and what exactly would these private entities be contributing? Is the whole project going to be owned by private entities and then used for free by KU or leased to KU? Some of this new construction, like the gyms, will be for public use, right? Will this be a free community center or will the public have to pay for entry? I thought I read at one point, that KU would lease and then be "given" the complex after ten years - is that right? I'm just trying to understand the sum cost of this venture and who is profiting. Again, I might be oversimplifying, but it sounds like we are going to pay $25 million to help private entities build and then profit on a sports complex and on top of that give them a $17 million welfare check in the form of tax breaks? Why is Lawrence paying and not KU - though either way, it's taxpayer money? Is this just all about splitting the costs and hopefully the profits - an essentially corporate effort of split costs/profits? I'm not saying I'm opposed, I just don't understand how this will work exactly. I'm sure I've just missed this information earlier (I don't live in Lawrence).

Jack Jones 5 years, 2 months ago

Giant > I, also don't live in Lawrence (AZ) and haven't kept up with all the information about this project. However, if you will Google "Rock Chalk Park Project Lawrence, KS", I believe you will find answers to some (not all) of the questions you raise.

Cody Riedy 5 years, 2 months ago

Thanks, that worked wonders - first site it pulled up was the city of lawrence site, which has some of the basic details laid out. For any one else who needs info:

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